Agile Leadership Chris O'malley
December 10, 2018 DevOps, Mainframe Agility

Agile Transformation Leadership: Insight from Compuware CEO Chris O’Malley

Overview: Get key insight from Compuware CEO Chris O’Malley on how he sees Agile leadership as core to the company’s transformation success, and what that really looks like.


Earlier in 2018, Compuware CEO Chris O’Malley spoke with Jeff Dalton, host of the AgileCxO “Agile Leadership Podcast,” about Compuware’s Agile transformation from a company “dominated by a maintenance … Waterfall thinking” to a DevOps-enabled enterprise delivering innovation every 90 days.

“We embarked on an aggressive journey to remake ourselves first, adopt things like Agile and DevOps, and then become an innovative force in remaking the mainframe. And the fate of the company has changed as a result of it,” Chris said.

Listen to the Podcast

Agile on the Mainframe—How?

Previous to Compuware, Chris was the CEO of a startup built on Agile and DevOps techniques. But he had also seen the contrast to that innovative environment while in charge of CA Technologies’ mainframe business. So when he came to Compuware, he knew what was required to change the company and the industry.

“I saw this unique perspective of maintenance dominated worlds where Waterfall rules and there’s very few new things that are happening, to kind of seeing this big data world where in order to invent a new reality you need iteration, you need what Agile allows you to do,” he said.

He believed you could bring all those same techniques to the mainframe. Those techniques are the only way that Compuware has been capable of transforming itself and solving the needs and issues customers have.

“Agile is absolutely possible on the mainframe, and Compuware is proving it every single day,” he said.

Not Without Culture

Compuware’s Agile transformation wasn’t only an outcome of new methods, though. Changing the culture was essential.

“Culture is not something you can fix,” Chris said. “It starts from a management standpoint. You got to talk about something ambitious that will allow a market to change and a dynamic that people can get excited about.”

As a result, Compuware began advocating for “mainstreaming the mainframe” and wrote a white paper to inspire our own people to believe the platform could be radically changed, but also to inspire our customers, the mainframe community and the technology industry as a whole.

“Human nature fights change. We would rather be distraught in the familiar than take the risk of changing,” Chris said.

But if you can inspire new behaviors by encouraging people to accept discomfort, take risks, collaborate more closely with customers—all while using different processes and methods—Chris says you can get people to value change as they see themselves contributing to successful outcomes.

“Then you iterate on that,” Chris said. “And through … that virtuous cycle, you start to change the company.”

Leadership Empowers Passion, Empowers Change

Passionate explorers, Chris says, are “excited about the mission of the company and want to dent the world as it relates to making a difference for our customers and the market.”

How do you create more of them and empower them to advance your company’s objectives and inspire their colleagues to also become passionate explorers?

Every week, every Compuware managers meet with the people they lead to discuss “factors around getting them to be more like a passionate explorer to help the company further along,” Chris said.

Various forms of regular celebration across the company and bi-weekly town halls are other simple yet effective ways we encourage people to become “more a part of the company’s overall success,” he said.

Ok with Failure

“Sometimes those outcomes are failures, but they pushed us in ways that it was a building block or step forward for the company,” Chris said.

Mainframe culture is infamously risk averse, but it can’t be if it’s going to be part of an organization’s Agile transformation—transformation is built on experimentation and risk.

“We should accept failure as a necessary part of inventing new things. It needs to be something that’s talked about,” Chris said.

He says people misinterpret experimentation as being dangerous to quality. But it’s not true if you’re using the right methods to experiment.

“Agile can be done right, and doing Agile right means you have to be fanatical about things like automated testing, unit testing, functional testing, integration testing, load testing,” Chris said. “When you’re doing those things as part and parcel to it, there isn’t that consequence of poor quality. So you can build better quality products as a result of these techniques.”

Are You Transforming Correctly?

It’s one thing to have a dearth of ideas, and another to have so many you don’t know what to do with them. That’s the case with Compuware today, over four years into the Agile transformation Chris has been leading.

“I’m constantly thinking about throughput and not compromising quality,” Chris said. “You have to think about constraints.”

Compuware uses key performance indicators (KPIs) across quality, velocity, efficiency and employee engagement to ensure we’re continuously improving and fit enough to keep turning more awesome ideas into deliverables that are making a difference for our customers.

Learn About KPIs

Instead of treating developers like people rowing a Roman ship who work to the beat of a drum, “we’re using KPIs to get us culturally in this motive of being high-performance athletes,” Chris said. He talks about this more in a recent Forbes article.

“You have to be KPI junkies. If you’re going to get better you have to be constantly challenging yourself.”

So, You Wanna Be Agile?

“I love Jeff Bezos’ line that customers are beautifully and wonderfully dissatisfied,” Chris said. To innovate and find ways to delight your customers, you have to be capable of responding “iteratively, quickly, smartly” and “align deliverables in ways that always keep you ahead of the competition.”

That takes being agile.

“There is no other method towards that end,” Chris said. But it can’t just be IT that starts down the Agile/DevOps journey.

Chris says CEOs also must “understand the connection between customer obsession and trying to delight them, and the need for you and the software side to respond in ways that Waterfall and former techniques can’t.”

In fact, Chris recently had an important discussion around this exact topic with DevOps guru Gene Kim during a fireside chat at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in Las Vegas this past October.

“If you’re going to invent, create a better experience and method of engagement with your customers, it’s all going to be around software regardless of whatever you’re in. And the way that’s going to be done is through Agile and DevOps techniques,” Chris said.

There’s more where that came from. Listen to Chris’s conversation with Jeff Dalton, host of Agile Leadership Podcast with AgileCxO, for additional insight into how you can drive change and bring Agile and DevOps to the mainframe.

Listen to the Podcast